A little over a year ago, as an act of protest against the secular Israeli media, Yitzhak organized a Nam June Paik–like spectacle: a mass ceremony in front of the Ministry of Communication in Jerusalem, in which he claimed to have destroyed 1,000 TV monitors. On another occasion he published a decree calling for the destruction of CDs by religious singers who performed in front of “mixed” crowds of men and women.
But unlike most other rabbis and religious leaders, Yitzhak seems to be quite media-savvy, embracing every possible form of communication and not limiting himself to the traditional printed posters typical of the ultra-Orthodox religious community. Until recently he published two weekly newspapers, he regularly distributes CDs, tapes, and DVDs, and he has his own website and YouTube channel.
Which brings us at last to the subject of this post: Yitzhak’s film and video work, and what may well be a new genre of prophetic YouTube propaganda (PYP).
Most of Yitzhak’s lectures are recorded, usually with him standing in front of a blue or green screen. They are then edited and presented in a quasi–talk show format. Longer films are also produced: epic apocalyptic narratives which merge past and present, the biblical with the contemporary, creating an all-encompassing history which interprets economic protests across the globe, natural catastrophes, and political conflicts all in light of a looming War of Armageddon. Cross-edited into these are bits and pieces of Yitzhak’s lectures, the green screen morphing into a distant desert or a psychedelic futuristic landscape. The visual material is almost all appropriated – Hollywood is mashed-up with reportage, YouTube clashes with Obama, Ahmadinejad is confronted with Spartacus. Quotes from the Bible appear next to a pseudoscientific study of European demography, both of which might be assimilated, in turn, into a scene ripped off from a video game. All this plays to the sounds of cheesy action-film music or generic trance tracks, and best of all, it’s all defined as documentary.
Is this another case of 21st-century iconophilia – alongside Taliban videos of beheadings and Hamas propaganda – as Boris Groys has defined it? According to Groys, contemporary terror’s use of media is characterized by an iconophilic impulse, a desire to produce “strong images—images we would tend to accept as being ‘real,’ as being ‘true,’ as being the ‘icons’ of the hidden, terrible reality that is for us the global political reality of our time.” In other words, the terrorist-cum-iconophile takes exceptional measures to “end the critique of representation.”*
But how do Yitzhak’s videos fit into this scheme? Their artificiality is emphasized (just imagine a beheading filmed in front of a green screen), they are almost completely post-produced, and any sense of reality they might contain must be an augmented one. That is to say, if one is to follow Groys and seek to recover their aesthetic ideology, it might be by viewing them as Eisensteinian rather than as iconophilia in the traditional sense. Theirs is an art of montage, of dialectical synthesis aiming to reveal higher truths (an all-encompassing historical narrative, for example): to clash two “false” images and get one true image for free.
* Boris Groys, Art Power (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 125.